Tenant Background Check with Social Security Number (The #1 Mistake)

Background check repair icon.Written by Background Check Repair

Background Checks | September 14, 2022

Tenant background check with social security number being searched on a computer screen on the left, with a social security card underneath it and a rental home in the middle with a landlord on the right with a suitcase holding up a key in his hand as a magnifying glass hovers over his head.

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Although having a background check done is fairly stressful, navigating the laws of running a tenant background check with social security number on someone else can be even worse.

Background check laws are changing constantly all around the country, especially for residency requirements, and the number one mistake people make is failing to get adequate consent to conduct a background check.

Since a background check for an apartment or other rental property is done for professional reasons, the Fair Credit Reporting Act dictates specific rules and regulations concerning what can be seen, what shows up on a background check, and how that information can be used.

Non-complaisance with this federal law can results in serious fines, penalties and punishments.

Landlords must also be sure they aren’t violating any local or state laws, which means that a tenant background check with social security number must be carried out in a specific, official way. 

This guide explains all the ins and out so that you can avoid the number one mistake.

#1 Mistake Landlords Make When Tenant Screening With Social Security Number

There are plenty of small mistakes that can be made when performing background checks on potential tenants, however, few are more serious or more common than failing to get consent during a tenant background check with a social security number.

Although many landlords are really large holding companies with an army of lawyers at their disposal, many landlords are just individuals renting out a guest house, apartment, or something similar. In this case, it is up to one person to learn the ins and outs of the complicated world of tenant laws.

Landlords need to familiarize themselves with ordinances at the state, county, and city levels to ensure that they are complying with literally dozens of different laws that are aimed to protect both tenants and landlords alike.

Some of the most confusing of all of these laws involve the way that landlords are allowed to screen potential tenants with a background check. Once again, there are the federal laws that need to be worried about first, then the state and county laws regarding background checks, and finally the local laws.

SSA website screenshot with yellow arrows pointing to how to verify social security numbers legally using the verification service and consent based verification service.

In general, when it comes to background checks, there are usually few if any local and state laws that landlords will need to worry about, however, it is still important to check just in case.

The main thing that landlords should be concerned with is ensuring that their background check follows the federal laws that are outlined by the Fair Credit Reporting Act.1 The FCRA essentially operates as the bare minimum laws that all states must follow when it comes to background checks. The vast majority of the regulations set out by the FCRA are based on avoiding employers and landlords from invading someone’s privacy during a background check.

Related Reading: How long does a background check take for an apartment?

When it comes to tenant background checks with social security numbers, one of the most important aspects of the FCRA comes into play. Although many individuals have seen commercials for background check services that perform background checks on individuals without that person even knowing, this isn’t always legal. Most of these companies are simply performing name-based checks through public databases to return this information.

However, tenant background checks usually are seeking out information on an individual that is not considered public information. Mainly, their social security number to run a proper identity verification check, and financial information that can only be obtained using their social security number.

Related Reading: What is a background check social security number report?

Since landlords are searching for confidential information using a potential tenant’s social security number, the FCRA has strict requirements about obtaining clear written consent from the individual that they know what the background check entails and that they are giving their permission for their social security number to be used to perform the check.

Many landlords will have access to an individual’s social security number from things like applications, however, even if the individual willingly gave their social security number there is no implied consent that it can be used to perform a background check.

Performing a tenant background check with social security number without the written consent of the individual is a federal crime.

This is an especially big issue when the landlord is performing the background check themselves. For this reason alone, it is a good idea to look into hiring a reputable background check agency to perform the check. Not only will they likely perform a more accurate and thorough check, but when it comes to performing a check using an individual’s SSN, the background check service will not perform the check unless they receive written consent from the individual.

Background check services that are authorized to perform this kind of check with the social security administration are also going to be FCRA compliant in all aspects of the check. This allows the landlord to feel safe that the check is being performed properly and legally.

How To Verify A Tenant’s Social Security Number Legally

There are a few different ways to verify a tenant’s social security number legally. The easiest way is to work with a background check service. Be sure that the background check service is FCRA compliant as not all are and many simply perform name-based checks and are not authorized to verify social security numbers and other confidential information.

There are tons of different background check services available so finding one that specializes in tenant background checks shouldn’t be a problem at all. The background check service will work with the landlord to ensure all the necessary information and consent forms have been filed to avoid any potential legal issues.

Obviously, there will be a fee associated with this but it is still the best option in most cases so that landlords can ensure that everything is being done properly.

Another option for individuals opting to perform the background check and SSN verification themselves is to go through the Social Security Administration directly.2 The exact steps will depend on a few factors, however, the SSA has a penalty of helpful information and guides on their website to help guide individuals through the process. At the very least, landlords will likely need tenants to fill out an authorization form.3

The social security option is completely free.

How To Do A Tenant Background Check Without Social Security Number (Tenant Background Check Without Ssn)

Before considering if a tenant background check with social security number is not the right kind of background check for your specific rental situation, there are a few things that individuals should be aware of. The first is the limits of performing a background check without an SSN.

As mentioned earlier, an SSN is required to view confidential information. When it comes to tenant background checks, one of the most important things is being able to view an applicant’s credit history to get an idea of whether or not they will be able to pay for the room or apartment and if they can pay for it on time. Without an SSN this won’t be possible.

California information screenshot explaining that certain questions are not allowed to be asked on a tenant background check, inlcuding the need for a social security number.

The other major issue with performing a background check without an SSN is that there is no way to perform a proper identity verification check. These days it is extremely difficult and extremely rare for someone to create a convincing fake identity separate from who they really are, but it does still happen. Although unlikely, the possibility of someone using a fake name on a rental application is a possibility.

With all that being said, there are many situations where performing a background check without an SSN is still a reasonable solution, especially for individuals renting out single rooms for a low cost.

Income Verification Without Social Security Number

Income verification is one of the most important aspects of a tenant background check. Although this becomes difficult and not as reliable when the check is performed using means that do not require a social security number, it is not impossible.

The main thing to keep in mind is that although there are plenty of ways to verify income, income does not tell someone’s entire financial situation. Car loans, credit card debt, student loans, etc. all contribute to the total amount of money someone will have each month, so even if their income seems reasonable for the price of the rental, it can be hard to say if they will actually have enough money to pay rent each month.

Related Reading: Can I run a free rental background check on myself?

Still verifying their income by requesting pay stubs, tax documents from the previous year or even bank statements will at least give landlords a good idea of where the tenants stand.

Run Criminal History Check Without A Social Security Number

The other important aspect of a tenant background check is the criminal history check. This is another check that is even more important for landlords that only have a single rental property as allowing the wrong tenant can put their personal livelihood at risk. Luckily, performing a criminal history check without a social security number is extremely easy and shouldn’t affect the quality or results of the check.

Related Reading: Who pays for a background check, tenant or landlord?

There are tons of different ways to perform criminal history checks on an individual. The three best methods are:

  • DIY criminal history check
  • Hiring a background check service
  • Performing the background check through a law enforcement agency

The DIY method can be a great option for certain situations. Especially if the landlord is already somewhat familiar with the potential tenant. The  DIY method will involve manually checking a few different databases. At the very least a free search of the state or national sex offender registry and a local criminal history check. Local criminal history checks are best performed by contacting the county court clerk about where the individual lives and asking about the best method to obtain court documents. Simply request any records for the individual using their first and last name. Keep in mind that requesting this information usually carries a small fee.

Screenshot of the social security number verification service with yellow arrow pointing to login button.

Hiring a background check service is likely the easiest option but can also be the most expensive. There are plenty of background check services that will perform name-based checks through dozens of criminal databases and return all the information to the requester. This option is the quickest, often taking just minutes to complete and get results, but usually carries a fee upwards of $25 for a single search.

Finally, performing a background check through a law enforcement agency is another great option that is both cost-effective, easy to perform, and will return reliable results. The exact methods will depend on where the check is carried out as different states and counties perform background checks differently, however, in most states the state police department, or state bureau of investigation are a great first place to check.

Related Reading: Does an eviction go on your record?

For example, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation performs name-based statewide background checks for a fee. Simply access the CBI website,4 navigate to the internet criminal history check and select “individual”. This will allow individuals to perform the check entirely online by filling in some basic information and paying a small fee. Results should be available instantly.

How To Check Background With Social Security Number (Tenant Screening With Social Security Number)

Individuals that have access to a tenant’s social security number, and have had the proper consent forms signed, will have a few other options.

The quickest option is to work with an FCRA-compliant background check service that can run a full tenant background check using the individual’s social security number. However, the DIY method is also possible by performing the following checks manually.

Identity Verification

Identity verification should be performed through the SSN,5 using the steps outlined on their website.

As always, it is essential to have written permission from the tenant to use their SSN for background check purposes.

Criminal History

Checking someone’s criminal history is fairly easy without a social security number. Individuals can go through a state agency such as the State Police to have a criminal history check performed on another individual.

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Social Media

Another check that can be performed without the individual’s social security number being used is to check their social media profiles using their name. This can be a simple and effective method to get a better idea of the tenant before they move in.

Public Records

Searching public records for the individual’s name can also be a good check to perform. This can return criminal history information as well as various tax records that can give individuals a good idea of their financial situation or help landlords find any inconsistencies.

Court Cases For Evictions

Checking for evictions is another important check that can be performed. This will be done at the local court house using the individual’s name. If the individual has been evicted before then this will likely have gone through the local court system, which means all the documents surrounding the case will be public information.

What Happens When Someone Gives A Fake Social Security Number For Apartment Application?

There are a number of things that can happen when someone gives a fake social security number for an apartment application. Any kind of fake social security number is taken extremely seriously by the SSA.

Since a social security number is so valuable and is linked directly to an individual, using a fake one usually veers into the realm of identity theft. Although the exact circumstances are important, in many cases using a fake social security number is punishable by up to 5 years in prison.6

Some landlords may ask for the social security number of all the potential tenants as part of the background check screening process, however, it is fairly uncommon for a landlord to request the SSN of someone younger than 16.

Legal code screenshot explaining that false representation of a social security number is a crime.

Individuals who use their child’s social security number on a rental application and pass the number as their own are committing identity theft, even if it is their own child.

Someone Used My Social Security Number To Rent An Apartment: What To Do Now

Anytime someone else is using your social security number, individuals should contact local law enforcement and contact the SSA7 immediately. Identity theft is a very serious crime and can be extremely harmful to the individual to who the SSN belongs.

As stressful as having a background check run on yourself can be, performing a background check on another individual can be just as stressful. There are tons of complicated regulations and laws that must be followed to avoid violating any FCRA regulations or violating an individual’s privacy. The #1 thing to remember for a tenant background check with social security number is to get written consent from the individual before doing anything else.

Frequently Asked Questions About Tenant Background Check With Social Security Number

Is It Safe To Give Your Social Security Number For A Background Check?

Yes, in most cases giving your SSN for a background check is a standard occurrence, as always use your best judgment.

Do I Have To Provide My Social Security Number On A Rental Application?

Most rental applications will require a SSN in order to complete the background check. Although not legally required, rental companies are able to turn individuals away who refuse to give a SSN.

Is It Legal To Run A Background Check On A Tenant With Social Security Number?

Yes, assuming the individual has also signed a form saying they understand that their SSN is used for a background check and consent to this use.

Can You Do Background Check Without Social Security Number?

Yes, the most thorough background checks will be performed using an SSN.

Can I Rent An Apartment Without A Social Security Number?

It is possible to rent an apartment without an SSN. However, it will likely be difficult to find an apartment that is willing to rent to an individual they can perform a proper background check on.

Is A Social Security Number For Rental Application Mandatory?

No, a SSN is not mandatory but it is an extremely common requirement. 

Is There a Specific Background Check That Landlords Use, or Another Option?

Most landlords will perform a local criminal history check, identity verification check, and a credit check, but instead of doing this by hand, will usually trust a certified Consumer Reporting Agency.

Is It Okay To Give Your SSN to Your Landlord?

Yes, sharing your SSN with your landlord is extremely common and not out of the ordinary.

Is There A Tenant Background Check That Doesn't Require a SSN?

Most tenant background checks will be performed using a SSN, although some independent owners won’t require it.

Is It Free To Get a Tenant Background Check?

No, even with an SSN most background checks will carry a fee to perform the checks.

Do You Have to Provide a Social Security Number for All Background Checks?

No, not all background checks require a SSN. However, background checks performed without an SSN will have some limits compared to those performed with an SSN.

Is There a Background Check With ITIN Number and What Makes It Different?

Some background checks can be performed using an ITIN number, but they will generally have the same limits as those performed without a SSN.

Can Landlords Check Credit Scores If They Don't Have a Social Security Number?

Landlords will not be able to perform a credit check without a social security number. Although getting a credit check on yourself without an SSN is possible, it will be required another individual to check your credit history.

What Does 'Compliant" FCRA Tenant Screening Services Mean?

There are tons of FCRA compliant tenant screening services. It’s important to shop around and be sure that they are FCRA compliant, however, most will perform the checks the exact same way so things like price and customer service will be the deciding factors.


References

1Federal Trade Commission Protecting America’s Consumers. (2022). Fair Credit Reporting Act. Statutes. Retrieved July 01, 2022, from <https://www.ftc.gov/legal-library/browse/statutes/fair-credit-reporting-act>

2Social Security. (2022). Verifying Social Security Numbers. Social Security Number Verifications. Retrieved July 01, 2022, from <https://www.ssa.gov/employer/verifySSN.htm>

3Authorization for the Social Security Administration (SSA) To Release Social Security Number (SSN) Verification. (2020). Form SSA-89. Retrieved July 02, 2022, from <https://www.ssa.gov/forms/ssa-89.pdf>

4Colorado Bureau of Investigation Department of Public Safety. (2022). Internet Criminal History Check System (ICHC). Welcome to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Retrieved July 02, 2022, from <https://www.cbirecordscheck.com/>

5Social Security. (2022). SSNVS Overview. The Social Security Number Verification Service. Retrieved July 02, 2022, from <https://www.ssa.gov/employer/ssnv.htm>

6Department of Justice. (2019). Five Charged with Using Fake and Stolen Social Security Numbers to Get Credit, Lease Cars and Apartments. U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of Ohio. Retrieved July 02, 2022, from <https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdoh/pr/five-charged-using-fake-and-stolen-social-security-numbers-get-credit-lease-cars-and#:~:text=False%20representation%20of%20a%20Social,Magistrate%20Judge%20on%20the%20charges.>

7Social Security. (2019). KA-02238. Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved July 02, 2022, from <https://faq.ssa.gov/en-us/Topic/article/KA-02238#:~:text=It%27s%20a%20one%2Dstop%20resource,the%20nation%27s%20consumer%20protection%20agency.&text=If%20you%20believe%20someone%20is,%2D800%2D908%2D4490.>

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